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Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

One of the most anticipated stops on the entire Sprint Cup schedule will take place this Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway when the lights will be turned on for the 27th running of the Sprint All-Star Race. Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Sprint All-Star race has a long and storied history since Darrell Waltrip took the checkered flag for the firstever event in 1985. The race has called Charlotte home every year with the exception of 1987 when Atlanta Motor Speedway played host to the event that was won by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Over the years, the race has provided some very famous finishes thanks to a format that, even though it has changed many times, always provides an opportunity for a fantastic finish. It is also the hardest race into which to gain entry as the field is made up almost entirely of past winners in the series. This race doesn’t award any of those precious Sprint Cup points, but it does provide the winner with a check worth more than a million dollars.

This year’s field will be made up of 17 drivers who have won a Sprint Cup race during the 2010 season or have made a trip to victory lane this season. This adds a couple of drivers that normally wouldn’t be in the line-up as Trevor Bayne’s surprise win at Daytona along with Regan Smith’s win at Darlington puts both of those drivers in the all-star event for the first time.

Joining these winners will be two previous winners of the Sprint All-Star Race, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin. That brings the number of drivers eligible to take the green flag on Saturday night to 19, but there are three other spots still up for grabs and the entries will not be known until right before race time.

Two drivers will have the opportunity to race their way into the field in the Sprint Showdown 40-lap qualifying race held just prior to the running of the all-star event. The winner and runner-up both move into the starting field for the featured event, bringing the number of drivers in the race to 21.

That leaves one spot remaining and in years past there have been some surprises as to which driver would use this means to get into the race. The last spot is reserved for the driver that wins the Sprint Fan Vote. This year a surprise isn’t anticipated as Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the drivers that is eligible to be voted in by the fans and with his popularity, he seems to be a sure bet to move into the all-star event.

Just making the event is a challenge in itself, but once a driver is safely in the starting field what awaits is a format that seems to build with intensity with each passing lap. In years past, the format seemed to always change, but this season the format will be exactly what was used last season when Kurt Busch took the checkered flag and the million-dollar payout.

It’s only a 100-lap race, but it is broken down into four segments of racing. The first is the longest with 50 laps, but every driver must make a mandatory four-tire pit stop on lap 25 that adds some pressure to the pit crews. The second segment is 20 laps long with a caution flag afterward that affords teams the option of pitting.

The third segment also consists of 20 laps, but after that there will be a 10-minute break where teams can make normal adjustments on their car. The teams line up for the start of the fourth segment according to where they finish the third segment. Once the break is over, the cars fall behind the pace car where they will take one lap around and then come back in for a four-tire stop. The way they come back off pit road will determine the starting lineup for the final 10-lap shootout that will consist of only green flag laps.

So there you have it, a huge chunk of change for the winner, no worry of points lost and a 10-lap shootout to the checkered flag. It’s the perfect recipe for as they like to say at the speedway, “One hot night!” Expect the unexpected as this is the night the sport’s stars shine.

Race Preview Event: Sprint All-Star Race Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns) Date: May 21, 9 p.m. (Sprint Showdown at 7:45 p.m.) TV: Speed Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Kurt Busch

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